by Samuel L. Leiter
Thirteen revues populated the New York season of 1924-1925, some of them the latest annual edition to an ongoing franchise, most with the current year appended to their titles; others once-only, stand-alone shows that produced no progeny; and one the first in a new series that would have two descendants.
The seven well-established series were The Ziegfeld Follies of 1924, George White’s Scandals of 1924, The Passing Show of 1924, Earl Carrol Vanities, The Greenwich Village Follies of 1924, Artists and Models of 1924, and The Music Box Revue 1924-1925. Those without a prior or future life were Hassard Short’s Ritz Revue, The Grab Bag, Dixie to Broadway, Seeniaya Ptitza a.k.a. The Blue Bird, and Puzzles of 1925. Finally, the Great White Way’s new franchise was The Garrick Gaieties. In today’s column, we’ll take our seats at three of the brand-name shows, one of the one-time only revues, and conclude with a visit to The Garrick Gaieties.
The Ziegfeld Follies, certainly the best-known of them all, piled up 520 showings at the New Amsterdam Theatre in its nineteenth edition (the first was in 1907), which brought back folksy superstar comedian Will Rogers, and brightened hearts with the dancing talents of Ann Pennington. It was her last Follies show, her big number being “Biminy,” which she performed with a chorus of “hooch” girls. Two groups of English Tiller Girls (one of them called the London Empire Girls) added choreographic zest to the evening, and high-kicking Evelyn Law also opened eyes with her terpsichorean routines.
Rogers’s unique brand of political banter, delivered as he chewed gum and toyed with a lariat, was buttressed by his appearance in a couple of not-particularly funny sketches. More humor, however, derived from British acrobat-dancer-comic Lupino Lane. Brandon Tynan’s imitation of Henry Cabot Lodge drew attention, and singers Edna Leedom and Irving Fisher were warmly received. Also appreciated was gorgeous singer Vivienne Segal. For all of the talent on display, however, the revue was not up to the standards of its predecessors.
With its second edition, Earl Carroll, one of Flo Ziegfeld’s two main rivals (the other being George White), prefixed his name for the first time to the title of the series that came to be called Earl Carroll Vanities (Earl Carroll Theatre, 9/10/24, 134). Its purpose was to be that of “exalting the human form,” which, naturally, meant the female form. Expensive and well-produced, the show had an army of 108 chorus beauties. In one scene a nearly naked girl swung back and forth on a pendulum. The first-act finale employed a spangled revolving staircase on which stood dancer Charles Fredericks, with all the chorines arranged in revealing garments. Another spectacular number, “Twenty-Four Lovely Hours,” showed each hour represented by a Vanities girl.
The major problem was the weakness of the comedy bits, a common sore spot. Despite the presence once more of Joe Cook, one of the era’s leading vaudeville clowns, the jokes and routines were stale. (William Collier wrote the book.) The Times assumed that Cook’s verbal humor was slighted so that he could count on his acrobatic comedy. His funniest scene, “The Electrical Laboratory,” had a young comic named Dave Chasen who nearly stole the show. Sophie Tucker was the headline singer, but the “High Priestess of Pep” seemed out of place. Still, Alan Dale called the buxom star “sinuous and alluring.”
One of the seasonal revue regulars decided to call it quits this season. Music Box Revue of 1924 (12/1/24), brought its curtain down for good following four seasons at the Music Box Theatre, where it rang up 184 performances. John Murray Anderson staged this final effort within the concept of a Rip Van Winkle fable, with the famous sleeper played by Joseph McCauley. The songs, as usual in this series, were the products of Irving Berlin’s copious imagination. Heywood Broun found that Anderson “displayed his usual taste in line and color” in this visually beautiful presentation, while Alexander Woollcott observed that this was “the best revue which these senses have experienced in ten years of playgoing along Broadway.”
Berlin’s songs were extraordinarily well delivered by the exquisite and ladylike Grace Moore and the handsome Oscar Shaw, as well as by the Brox Sisters, heard here singing Berlin tunes. There were 20 songs, none of them, sadly, gaining immortality. The one hit as an interpolation, the already popular “All Alone,” sung at lighted telephones by Moore and Shaw.
In “Bandanna Ball” the all-white chorus was turned instantaneously by a special lighting effect into an all-black chorus on a levee. (Try doing that today!) Also of special interest was “In the Shade of the Sheltering Tree,” in which the chorus used large, green, ostrich-plume fans on which electric fans blew to create a magical tree outlined against a black velour background. Humor and wistful charm came across in the “Ballet Dancers at Home” sequence, featuring Ula Sharon and Carl Randall going through their domestic routine as famous ballet melodies accompanied them.
On board were comic greats such as Bobby Clark and Fannie Brice. Clark had them rolling with his bit as a hapless boxer, and Brice made them howl in her “Don’t Send Me Back to Petrograd” routine. The comics shared the stage for “I Want to Be a Ballet Dancer.”
Hassard Short, one of the all-round musical theatre artists of his time, may have had ambitions to rival revue producers like Ziegfeld, White, and Carroll, but Hassard Short’s Ritz Revue (Ritz Theatre, 9/17/24, 109) was the only one that ever carried his name. Short, who had participated in the creation of some of Broadway’s most successfully lavish shows, like the aforementioned Music Box Revue series, here provided a highly acclaimed production that Arthur Hornblow called “the liveliest, snappiest, most pulchritudinous spectacle” he had seen in years.
Packed to the gills with gorgeous tableaux, scantily clad beauties, button-bursting comics, and matchless sets and costumes, the revue was, apart from some off-color material purveyed by the team of Jay Brennan and Stanley Rogers (the latter the look-alike replacement for the recently deceased female impersonator Bert Savoy, who had been struck by lightning), a masterpiece of good taste.
The audience was enthralled by an exquisite drop curtain of gold and black silk and gauzy, silken, semitransparent draperies that allowed for fabulous lighting effects; the hilarities of comedienne Charlotte Greenwood in a sketch called “Her Morning Bath”; the blue humor of Brennan and Rogers; the drolleries of MC Raymond Hitchcock; the singing of Tom Burke; the terpsichorean accomplishments of Alberta Vitak; and the allure of barely draped female forms, especially a number that displayed famous courtesans of history.
Hassard Short’s Ritz Revue only had one edition, but The Garrick Gaieties, another newcomer to Broadway’s glitz and glamor, stuck around for three editions, its final one in 1930 (after a four-year hiatus). Seen at the Garrick Theatre, where it opened on 6/8/25 and compiled 231 performances, it was produced by the Junior Group of the Theatre Guild, being born as a two-show offering, then being extended to additional matinees, and, before long, getting a regular Broadway run, putting composer-lyricist team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart permanently on the Main Stem map. Their first fully professional engagement was a hit from which two of their still-heard musical contributions stood out: “Sentimental Me” and “Manhattan.” Both were introduced by Sterling Holloway (foggy-voiced and carrot-topped) and June Cochrane, with help from James Norris and Edith Meiser on the former.
The Garrick Gaieties was conceived in the vein of the intimate revues then becoming popular. It was mounted under Guild auspices to raise money for the new Guild Theatre’s tapestries. Inexpensively produced, it cost only $5,000 and earned much more than that.
Like The Grand Street Follies, most of the show’s fun proceeded from its parodies of recent productions. Among the targets were plays the Guild itself had staged, like They Knew What They Wanted (“They Didn’t Know What They Were Getting”), Fata Morgana, and The Guardsman. Diseuse Ruth Draper was delightfully spoofed by Hildegarde Halliday, and Peggy Conway did a devastating takeoff on Pauline Lord. Among other stars mimicked in good fun were the Lunts and Richard Bennett.
In all, 23 numbers were presented by a cast containing many future stalwarts of stage and screen. In addition to play parodies, Guild put-ons, and song and dance routines, there was a political sketch joshing the conventional domesticity of President Coolidge, another poking fun at William Jennings Bryant’s involvement in the Scopes “monkey trial,” a beautifully designed (by Miguel Covarrubias) Mexican café scene featured dancer Rose Rolanda (Covarrubias’s wife), and a bit about a clerk (Romney Brent) mistakenly locked in a department store overnight. (This last one was soon dropped in favor of “Sentimental Me.”)“Leiter Looks Back” will, of course, continue looking back in more editions of its own, the next one focused on four or five of the most memorable revivals of 1924-1925. Might Candida, starring Katherine Cornell, have been among them?